ONCE bitten, twice shy. And twice bitten?
There is one man, other than Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has really gotten under the opposition’s skin. Meet Sanjrani. Sadiq Sanjrani. In his second term as chairman of the Senate, he lords over the Upper House with a relish not seen in recent years. He smiles and smiles and continues to outwit his opponents despite the fact that they have — at least on paper — a majority in the House. Sanjrani has survived a vote of no confidence against all odds, and has won re-election as the chairman against, yep, all odds.
But have the odds now stacked up against him? Is he running out of his nine lives? We may not have to wait long to find out because the opposition is sharpening its knives for the third time. Operation ‘Get Sanjrani’ is on the verge of being launched.
Friday provided a hint. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari visited the home of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in what is seen as a thawing of frosty relations between the two ever since PPP had walked out of the PDM alliance. Since then the combined opposition had become a bit less combined even though informal coordination continues to take place inside the parliament. But the fresh air in Islamabad — the one that blew in last month in the wake of the tension between the PM and the establishment — this fresh air carries an aroma so sweet that the opposition is luxuriating in olfactory bliss.
The lesson is that if ‘Get Sanjrani’ succeeds, ‘Get Imran’ will become easier. Perhaps even inevitable.
It also smells an opportunity.
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The logic behind the ‘Get Sanjrani’ operation goes something like this: his three victories — first election as chairman, surviving the vote of no confidence, and re-election as chairman — were directly linked to the support of the establishment. It was this support that magically moved votes from the opposition to the treasury benches. But the fresh air from last month carries a whiff of neutrality. If the establishment is therefore stepping back — which is all that the opposition wants for now — then the opposition’s wafer-thin majority should hold in the Senate. No late night phone calls weaving magic means the numbers stay on their sides of the aisle. If this be so, Sanjrani will fall.
If he falls — goes the logic — it will be the first and clearest evidence, for the whole world to see, that the establishment has indeed turned neutral. This in turn means that the PM is alone. Truly alone.
Message: the gig is up. Lesson: if ‘Get Sanjrani’ succeeds, ‘Get Imran’ will become easier. Perhaps even inevitable.
Step one for the opposition now is to agree on the operation. So far no decision has been made though there are quite a few takers for it. There’s even some discussion on possible replacements for Sanjrani as the chairman if the operation succeeds. The decision — or indecision as it stands now — is based on the fear of failing yet another time. Such a failure would have consequences far bigger than just dragging Sanjrani from the chairman’s elevated chair. It would, in fact, break the opposition’s momentum against what is being seen as a weakened government, and strengthen the perception that while the PM may be lonely, he may not be alone. Yet.
This decision, were it to be taken, will happen sometimes after Nov 19.
Step two would be to check the pulse of the Balochistan Awami Party. Sadiq Sanjrani is a member of this party but the internal party revolt against its own chief minister Jam Kamal has unsettled its dynamics. Many members are nursing grievances. The opposition knows this. However, it will need to stealthily verify if some BAP senators are open to be convinced. If they’ve read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, they may recall Brutus’ words:
“Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.”
Step three would be to decide on the opposition’s candidate for the chairman. Since the PPP already has Yousuf Raza Gilani as the leader of the opposition, the PML-N may demand that one of its senators should be the next chairman. If the PPP were to agree to this, and if the PML-N actually succeeds in grabbing the chairmanship of the Upper House for itself, the perceptional dynamics of the country’s political landscape would change in a dramatic way.
But as always, there are complications.
Sadiq Sanjrani has just led a successful change in Balochistan’s top office. Quddus Bizenjo’s ascension to the chief minister’s office is actually Sanjrani’s win. He has clearly not lost the game of perceptions because after all, how can you bring about a major change at the top in Balochistan without the establishment’s nod? So those within the opposition who believe that the establishment will abandon Sanjrani, may do so at their own peril. Sanjrani is the PM’s ally, but he is not the PM’s man. He has over the years — since he sprung the ‘Sanjrani surprise’ and won the chairmanship — become a wheeling-dealing power broker in his own right. Jam Kamal’s ouster has strengthened Sanjrani’s power base, and now his gravy train runs through the chairman Senate’s office all the way to the Balochistan chief minister’s office. He can now do a lot, for a lot, in a lot of ways.
In the political world cup 2021, operation ‘Get Sanjrani’ is therefore the semi-final — possibly a knockout stage. From the treasury side, Sanjrani has been playing like David Warner. He’s scored again and again through intelligent batting that has mixed aggression with cheeky singles. But even Warner can lose his wicket — even if he’s not nicked the ball — in a high-pressure game.
The opposition looks strong and confident like Babar Azam’s team. With the umpire turning neutral, it reckons it can build up to a solid tally of seats that would be hard to chase. But it runs the risk of dropping a catch, and allowing Sanjrani to pull a Matthew Wade.
Or it could rewrite world cup 2021 history and send Sanjrani back to the pavilion. Game is on.